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Friday, July 28, 2006

P is for Polysics

Meet pop's hardest-working act

Special to The Japan Times

'We're really happy that a band who represent the U.K. music scene are such big Polysics fans," says Hiro Hayashi, frontman of the hyperactive post-punk Tokyo band. "It's an honor."

News photo
After touring the U.K. this spring with Kaiser Chiefs, Polysics will bring their high-energy live show to several rock festivals in Japan this summer.

Hayashi's talking about the multi-platinum-selling Kaiser Chiefs, who exposed Polysics to a whole new audience when they invited them to support their spring U.K. tour.

Kaiser Chiefs discovered Polysics when they performed "Kaja Kaja Goo" off their album "National P" on the British BBC3 TV show "Adam & Joe Go Tokyo!" in 2003. The hosts, a comedy duo, spent two months broadcasting from Japan's capital, and ended each show with a live band. Polysics closed the first, sparking Polyfever around Britain, landing them a U.K. record deal and inspiring Ricky Wilson to write the Kaisers' "Saturday Night."

But while this patronage is appreciated, Hayashi is unsure whether it's entirely essential. After all, Polysics have toured the U.K. several times over the last few years, and their fanbase has been growing slowly but surely with each visit, celebrity endorsements or no.

"We don't feel the effect yet," says Hayashi. "We had a slightly larger crowd than usual on our U.K. dates in July, but we're not sure whether it's down to Kaiser Chiefs' support. We'd need to do a longer tour to know for sure. But we're really happy that they helped us out."

So for Polysics, finding famous fans is not a priority. With a strong work ethic and a knack for electronically enhanced pop, Hayashi's more concerned with converting the masses, and regular jaunts around Japan and abroad have seen the band's fan base grow bigger. Put it largely down to their insane stage show, with the jumpsuited Hayashi, Fumi (bass), Kayo (keyboards)and Yano (drums) giving 200 percent nightly. Live, Polysics are one of Japan's most exciting bands -- showmen to the core, they also carry an arsenal of arse-shifting rhythms and weird Devo-esque hooks.

Their attention to live spectacle has made Polysics an ideal festival band. Next week, they play Rock In Japan in Ibaraki Prefecture, where Hayashi will also be a guest DJ.

"In the beginning, we thought Rock In Japan felt artificial," admits Hayashi. "But the organizers have learned from doing it every year and now it's more of a festival. It's more fun now."

He should know: Polysics have played Rock In Japan every summer since 2001, the event's second year.

"The first time we played, we thought there were too many toilets, and the roads were too clean," he recalls. "It all felt a bit too convenient. Maybe I was comparing it with Fuji Rock. But all the people who come every year, they always seem to have a good time. That made me enjoy it the way the audience was enjoying it."

Here's what to expect from Hayashi's Rock In Japan DJ set:

Hiromi Go & Kiki Kirin, "Ringo Satsujin Jiken" -- "The Japanese answer to Hedva And David [Israeli duo who won Japan's World Popular Song Festival in 1970]. I love Hiromi Go's sexy high-tone voice."

Deep Purple, "Highway Star" -- "It feels great to play air-guitar to Ritchie Blackmore's guitar parts!"

Hirasawa Susumu, "Cowboy To Indian" -- "A quirky country tune. The intro's great for a bit of air-violin."

Depeche Mode, "Master And Servant" -- "This song makes me feel like I've become David Gahan. It's great to breakdance during the interlude."

Karate Bakabon, "Ano Subarashii Ai o Moichido" -- "Perfect track for a grand finale. The cheap rhythmbox sound and organ are brilliant, and the singing style is crazy. Definitely a fantastic cover tune!"

Polysics have pretty much conquered Japan's festival circuit, and are one of the few Japanese artists who have also played festivals in South Korea, Spain and France. But despite this, Hayashi's favorite event is closer to home: Rising Sun Rock Festival in Hokkaido.

"They have great food and the weather's always good. And backstage is like heaven: all drinks are free," he laughs, adding, "Whoever reads this, form a band and play at Rising Sun."

Polysics are one of the most prolific and hardest-working bands around. In eight years they have released seven studio albums, plus EPs, live albums, DVDs and a best-of. "Now Is The Time" was released in Japan last October, with U.S. and U.K. releases this spring. The tracklisting differed slightly in each country to suit local tastes.

"Each country has a different concept of rhythm," explains Hayashi. "Maybe the Japanese version is the most balanced, but the British one has lots of short songs lined up in quick succession, pan-pan-pan-pan-pan, which fits my rhythm better."

The band are recording their next album, with an unspecified due date. Aside from a handful of tracks on their last album that were produced by Gang Of Four's Andy Gill, Polysics tend to self-produce, and the next album will be no exception.

"We feel more comfortable doing it that way at the moment," says Hayashi. "But it might change. Last time, working with Andy Gill just came up along the line. So if something comes up, we might go for it. Maybe Duran Duran!"

He promises the next album will be "more pop, more crazy. We're gonna do something really exciting." Though Polysics' basic sound might not have made any leaps and bounds over the years, it has subtly evolved, with each album cramming innovative ideas to freshen the formula.

"When I hear a really good song or see a good show, it inspires me," says Hayashi. "So I'm always coming up with brand new ideas. Until we released 'Now Is The Time,' I couldn't really express my messages and melodies well enough. But with that record, I think I crossed a line. It's been perceived well, which made me more confident."

He pauses almost imperceptibly, then adds, "We've gone to the next level." See for yourself this summer.

Polysics play Aomori Rock Festival, Tsugaru City, July 29; Tororo Rock Fes. in Shirasawa, Miyagi Prefecture, Aug. 5; Rock in Japan Festival, Hitachi Seaside Park, Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture, Aug. 6 (Hayashi DJ set on Aug. 4, tickets for the festival have sold out); Liquid Room, Tokyo, Aug. 23; Nagoya Club Diamond, Aug. 25. For ticket info, visit www.polysics.com

Helping hands

Kaiser Chiefs aren't the first Western band to grasp a Japanese act to their bosom:

Nirvana & Shonen Knife

In the early 1990s, Shonen Knife found fans in Nirvana, who took the Osaka girls on an international tour. Kurt Cobain famously said of a Knife show, "I was transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert," a sentiment echoed by Sonic Youth, who had led the 1989 tribute album "Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them." Nirvana's patronage helped Knife to find Western record deals.

The Flaming Lips & Yoshimi

When The Flaming Lips named their 2002 album "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots," it was in tribute to their friend Yoshimi Yokota of The Boredoms and OOIOO, who they met on the Lollapalooza tour in 1994. "She is a musician of extraordinary talent and uniqueness," said vocalist Wayne Coyne. Needless to say, Boredoms' and OOIOO's Western following soon grew massively.

The B-52's & Plastics

Formed in the late 1970s, new wave pioneers Plastics found more in common with U.S. contemporaries The B-52's than Japanese peers, and embarked on a stateside tour with them in the early 1980s. U.S. success was short-lived, but in 1999 members of Plastics released an album with The B-52's' Kate Pierson and Yuki under the name NiNa.

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